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Czech Republic: Beneš Decrees become campaign weapon

22 January 2013
Presseurop
Lidové noviny , Respekt, Mladá Fronta DNES

The question of the Beneš Decrees has become one of the big issues in the Czech presidential race. “Karel Schwarzenberg has fallen into the trap of nationalism,” writes Lidové noviny three days before the second round.

During a televised debate with his opponent Miloš Zeman, the Liberal-Conservative candidate said that the Decrees, which saw the Germans expelled and their belongings confiscated [after World War II], would have seen President Beneš hauled before the Hague Tribunal on war crimes, had it existed then. “This isn’t to say their former properties in the Czech Republic should be open to restitution claims,” he added, “however, this also does not mean they should not be evaluated from a moral and historical point of view.”

Zeman has responded by accusing Schwarzenberg of being a foreigner. He has accused him of having an Austrian wife whose father was a Nazi sympathiser and of “behaving like a Sudeten German”. However, Lidové noviny recalls, even Zeman, when he was prime minister, said in 2002 that “the issue of the Beneš Decrees has been consigned to the past.”

Karel Schwarzenberg has also had to face nationalist attacks from the family of outgoing President Václav Klaus, who backs Miloš Zeman. Klaus's wife, Livia, does not like the idea that the possible future first lady, Therese Schwarzenberg, speaks no Czech. And the Klaus's son, Václav Jr., has criticised Schwarzenberg’s singing of the Czech national anthem. Lidové noviny deplores the family’s statements as “a blend of nationalism, xenophobia, chauvinism and demagoguery.”

The weekly Respekt, considers the possible election of Miloš Zeman a real danger –

The fact that Miloš Zeman, with the help of the Klaus family, is pulling out the nationalist card against Karel Schwarzenberg is a tragic outcome of the first direct presidential election. [...] Miloš Zeman has brandished the flag of nationalism, and if elected president, it would merely be a matter of time before the Czech political scene hits the same bottom that other countries of Central Europe have successively scraped against,” [referring to Poland under the Kaczyński brothers, Hungary under Viktor Orbán, and Slovakia under Vladimír Mečiar and then during the first term of Robert Fico).

Opponents who accuse Karel Schwarzenberg of “not being Czech enough” could not be further from the truth writes Mladá Fronta Dnes.

His grandfather Karel V, who died young in 1914, while in the Austro-Hungarian army, had been considered one of the hopes of Czech politics. Czech history and the Czech state were the main concerns of his father, Karel VI. That romantic patriotism and preoccupation with the Czech Republic have been passed down to his son.